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The effort to impeach Trump is poised to move quickly, with a conviction not out of the question: No one likes him
It will be the political fight of the century. Donald Trump is the first president since the 1990s to face impeachment by Congress. At best for him, it will be the dirtiest, most humiliating battle yet of a tumultuous political career. At worst, it will be the death blow to his presidency.
In a week for the history books, Trump was revealed to have used the powers of the Oval Office to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election for his personal political interests an abuse that the White House then tried to cover up.
Democrats moved swiftly to launch an impeachment inquiry following a whistleblowers complaint that detailed how Trump pressed the leader of Ukraine to help smear a political rival, the former vice-president Joe Biden. It set the stage for weeks of partisan trench warfare likely to deepen national divisions. But it also offered a sliver of hope to Trumps critics: that he could be drummed out of office by Christmas.
Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, reportedly instructed congressional committees to keep a narrow focus on the Ukraine scandal rather than Trumps myriad other alleged misdemeanours and to file the results of their investigations within weeks. With aides describing a need for speed, a vote to impeach could take place by mid-November.
I think its going to happen fast, said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in the governance studies programme at the Brookings Institution in Washington. The House is going to have to decide which articles of impeachment to draft and send forward. My guess is obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
If the Democratic-led House votes to approve articles of impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate will then decide whether to find Trump guilty and remove him from office. This seems far-fetched, but Kamarck said: Id give it a 30% to 40% chance. Remember how things shift and how public opinion shifts when you get these high-velocity events. There are people whove stood up to Trump in the Senate; theyre not totally terrified of him.
We forget the human part: Trump has no friends. No one likes him. When push comes to shove, he doesnt have depth and loyalty. If things get really bad and they can see a political future without him, theyll abandon him.
To date, Republican senators have been cowed by Trumps fervent support base and approval rating of around 90% within the party. But the relationship could prove fragile. A former Democrat, Trump was an outsider when he in effect staged a hostile takeover in the 2016 primary and many of his views are at odds with party orthodoxy.
Conviction requires a two-thirds vote of the 100-member Senate: 67 votes. That means 20 Republicans would be required to rebel. Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said the challenge for Democrats was to win over public opinion.
You know youve got the votes to impeach. The goal here is to create a narrative in which the American people wind up convincing the Senate they must convict.
I know its true that if there were a blind vote in the Senate, at least 30, possibly more of the Republican senators would vote to convict the president. But they wont do it absent a very public movement in that direction. In other words, the public itself, their base.
Timeline of a scandal
Such comments are a measure of the gravity of Trumps offence, different in kind from all those that went before. Unlike the special counsel Robert Muellers 448-page report on the Trump campaigns contacts with Russia in the 2016 election and the presidents apparent attempts to obstruct justice, the attempt to extort Ukraine involved Trump personally, while in office, and can be summarised in no more words than a single tweet.
There was an early hint of trouble in May when the New York Times reported that Rudy Giuliani, Trumps personal lawyer, planned to travel to Ukraine to press the government to investigate not only 2016 election interference but also claims Biden had pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor looking into a gas company where his son, Hunter Biden, was a board member.
Giuliani cancelled the trip, claiming the newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy was surrounded by enemies of Trump. In June, Giuliani wrote on Twitter that Zelenskiy was still silent on investigation of Ukrainian interference in 2016 and alleged Biden bribery.
Trump, meanwhile, told ABCs George Stephanopoulos he would consider receiving information on an election rival from a foreign source.
I think you might want to listen, there isnt anything wrong with listening, he said. If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] We have information on your opponent oh, I think Id want to hear it.
The following month, the president issued instructions to freeze nearly $400m approved by Congress to help Ukraine deal with an insurgency by Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country. On 24 July, Mueller testified to Congress but was widely seen as rambling and vague, failing to provide a smoking gun for impeachment.
A day later came Trumps fateful phone call with Zelenskiy. After discussing military aid, he asked for a favour then later pressed the Ukrainian president to speak to Giuliani and the attorney general, William Barr, about reopening a Ukrainian investigation into Hunter Biden.
Trump said: Theres a lot of talk about Bidens son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it It sounds horrible to me.
On 12 August, an intelligence community whistleblower filed a complaint. Another month passed. On 18 September, the Washington Post published the first details of the whistleblower complaint. It was very soon and very clearly a game changer.
This week, as political pressure built, the White House a released a rough transcript of Trump-Zelenskiy call. It showed the US president did indeed push his counterpart to dig up dirt on Biden. Critics called it extortion and a classic mafia-like shakedown. Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry, citing the presidents betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.